By Joe Sigurdson
Another day. Another mass shooting in America. The ensuing arguments are painfully predictable:
“We need stricter gun laws and background checks!”
“This is not a gun issue; it’s a mental health issue!”
“Stop politicizing the issue. It’s too soon to talk about this. Let the families grieve!”
Here’s the deal: We HAVE to talk about this now. We have allowed others to speak for us for too long, and we cannot trust any legislation to provide the answers to this problem. Relying on politicians to solve the problem is no longer an option. It is going to take work on our part to stop these shootings from happening.
Our society is confronting the painful consequences of a culture that is raising disconnected children. Our children are becoming isolated — especially boys –turning to gangs, drugs, alcohol, stealing, cutting and pornography to numb the pain of loneliness.
In my 21 years of working with young men, I have observed several basic needs that are essential for every human being to thrive. Most of these needs are driven by primal desires that are imprinted in our DNA as social beings: the need to be connected, the need to be valued, and the need to have purpose. These basic needs exist in cultures all around the planet and tap into a part of our soul that longs to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. This is the need that draws us to fiercely defend our family, religion, country, sports teams and community.
Simply put: We all long for a sense of purpose, belonging and connection.
Gangs are particularly good at satisfying primal needs of belonging. They provide young men with safety, fellowship, and meaning. Gangs fill the gaps in the lives of many lonely, disconnected boys, leading them to a darker sense of purpose.
At Boys to Men Mentoring, we address a young man’s basic needs by providing him with a positive alternative. We do this by sending teams of men into schools, on a weekly basis, to build a community of strong role models for these young men to lean on.
We need caring, committed men to carry out our mission. Our mentors are not perfect men by any means, and the process of earning a teenager’s trust is not easy. It requires every man to share his own vulnerabilities and insecurities. When we do, something magical happens! The boys begin to trust the men and soon begin to open up themselves, creating a circle of brotherhood founded in truth and honesty.
I know, I know. You’re too busy. You don’t have anything to offer a young child. You don’t want to screw anything up. You don’t want to be liable for saying or doing the wrong thing. All valid concerns. But let’s be realistic about the outcomes of doing nothing.
If we don’t come together as a community to fill the gaps of disconnection, then the gangs, drugs, and crime will. We will continue to see school shootings and gang affiliation increase. The heroin and opioid crises will continue to plague our society, until there are more teenage boys in jail than in school.
We cannot continue to passively default to “it’s not my problem” when, in fact, it is our problem. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to do the work necessary to change our county’s course. To give every boy the chance to become the man he wants to be.
I’m not saying Boys to Men is “the answer,” but we certainly are an answer. When we show up, listen, accept and encourage, these boys finally feel safe. When they feel safe, they share the truth. When they are honest about their lives, they become aware of options they had not considered. They make better choices, and they feel better. When they feel better, they do better. Their grades go up, their attendance improves and their disciplinary issues virtually disappear.
We will never be able to legislate caring, commitment, trust, honesty and community. Trust me when I tell you there is as much support in Boys to Men circles for you as there is for the boys. This is a symbiotic relationship that not only gives but receives as well.
Please visit boystomen.org and find a group of good men and boys to hang out with a couple of hours a week. That first step could change your world, a boy’s world and our communities for the better.
We are all a part of the solution.
Joe Sigurdson is co-founder of Boys to Men Mentoring Network in La Mesa. Founded in 1996, the nonprofit has developed a proven approach to producing real change within young men.
>> Subscribe to Times of San Diego’s free daily email newsletter! Click hereFollow Us: